The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Prologue of Spring of a Dawn, A Novella By Stirling Newberry

“I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.”

W.H. Auden “September 1, 1939” Lines 1-111

Червоний ліс2

The road was green and bloomed with fresh ruined gray high rises. Trees were thick with abandon and squirrels played along the conifer branches. In the center of the overgrown city square a hammer and sickle taller than any other logo stood atop the rectangular office building. The hammer had fallen out long ago.3 Along the road into the complex were mechanized infantry carriers with the loud “Z” on the sides of each and every one.4 Red rain came pouring down all over them.5 μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος.6

None of the MBTs even slowed at the barrier.7 Snap.

In the fifth carrier was a Russian infantry officer, his head masked with a helmet and goggles. The uniform was black with blotches.8

“Get the guard out here, or we will do to you what we have planned for Bucha.!”9

Slowly the guard station popped open to reveal a helmetless man. The Russian officer bellowed, in slang: “Are you drunk?10 I am not paying grandmas for your time.11 I don’t have time to waste.” The peacekeeper came up to the side and was truly ready for a Russian tirade. He almost got it in heaps and gobs – but the infantryman behind the officer put a hand on his superior’s back. The officer swatted away the hand but did not castigate the peacekeeper. The power of slang remained dry.

The peacekeeper eyed the Russian officer. Behind him, in the distance, was the tall white smokestack that marked the corroded nuclear power plant. The peacekeeper shivered – it was official now, a war, whatever Putin called it.12

“I am warning you that there is radiation.”

“Stuff it.13 You are now under Russian control.”

The peacekeeper blinked and then said, “I understand.”

“Even a horseradish will know it.”14

“That is the Red Forest.15 It is the dangerous region here.”

“Let the anesthetic cover it all. 16 Get the chief on the phone.”

The peacekeeper moved past the guard, there were wires on the doors. Going through the wires, he reminded himself of when he was a child learning the game of hide-n-seek: the trick was to pick the nastiest way to go. Days later he played with an uncle and found a plum. And he was then barely sixteen years old. He pick-up the phone and dialed the undialable: never had he summoned the head office.

“Yes.” He could feel discomfort coming down the linesr.17

“Chornobyl is being overrun by Russian troops.”18

“Are you sure?”

“The lady mercy won’t be home tonight.”19

“History won’t be kind to us.”

“History won’t care at all.”20

It was along the Red Forest in a Russian troop carrier. The trees were all the same size, an indication they were planted together.21

Two Russians were blabbing:

“See the outside is chromoplast goulash.”22 Ivan was satisfied with his joke.23

“Not like those grew up and proud under the mushroom cloud.”Egor who calmly replied. The spruce trees danced by outside the small window as they sped towards Chornoby.

“We are going to make black bombs with dust.”

“Still a little piece of me dies.”24

“Better than the whole body – which we will do.”

“Our officer should not have screamed out our plans.”

His friend picked lint from his black uniform. “They won’t live to tell. The operation is go.”25

They plodded through the dilapidated dachas in the Red Forest – or was it Rad?26 Red dacha roofs with ivory plaster stucco and lawns festered with new white birches cloying to the sun. As yet, there were no leaves. Orb webs grew on the boughs. Then fields with high grass and the dead trees took over. The dust clung up and bunch up in the front of the vehicles from the road. A driver dodged a rabbit on the road. Build your muscles as your body decays.27

Then they were at the full enclosure. Egor looked but Ivan talked first:28 “We need to get what we came for.”

A lump grew in Igor’s throat.

Then Ivan looked at him. “Are you worried? All the lies they tell you about this place are eating at your brain.”

Egor looked at the semi-cylindrical shape, on its side longer than many football pitches. “I am long past worrying.” They rolled out and took positions. Their officer was at the front. Konstantin was always straight and upright with a proud jaw.29 He paced to the gate. Long cranes still dotted the outside. There was no vegetation, just ivory concrete.

Konstantin went up to the guard. “This area is under Russian protection. Get the officer in charge. Face to face.”

The guard only nodded – he was informed and would obey – what else was there to do?

In less than half an hour black infantrymen held all the gates. Only then did men enter. They passed the sarcophagus which some knew was collapsing.30 Flourescent lights stained the walls. The infantrymen put on hazmat suits and went to work. Within 2 hours trains were packed with brown boxes to go out the tracks and over the bridges. Then they went and dug foxholes in the forest.31

A day later, green infantrymen replaced the black.32 None of them said anything about the op. They may not have known.

Back in Russia, Egor was back on base. His right hand was red.33

(Footnotes are after the jump.)

1This is W.H. Auden’s most famous poem. It is also not inn his collected works. There is a unmatched line which is out of place that is certainly true, as far as it goes. But it is also true, in an Aristotelian με/δε clause that anger is finally confess to, while the human heart is hidden. W.H. Auden was homosexual and that still remained hidden, that is the secondary reason it is not in his collected works.

2Red Forest

3Hammer is an illusion to Queen “Hammer to Fall”

4“Z” is for the Russian forces.

5Peter Gabriel, “Red Rain”

6The opening line of Homer, Iliad in Greek.

7MBT – Main Battle Tank. Part of the TLA – Three Letter Abbreviations.

8Elite forces, generally with a specific mission.

9There is some evidence that Bucha was planned before the invasion.

10“Бухой” – Drunk

11“Grandma” бабки Russian military slang for “money.”

12Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin – Владимир Владимирович Путин – The dictator of Russia with whatever title he wishes to carry. He is a dictator, whether I call him one or not, makes little difference so better to call him one.

13“Stuff it.” – slang for heroine.

14“хрен” – horseradish. But it is a meta-syntactical noun in Russian.


16Queen “Headlong”

17“In through the out door.” Is slang for anal sex and try to get in the other way e.g. death – Led Zeppelin “In Through the Out Door,” and Prince,“Raspberry Beret.”

18Chornobyl is the Ukrainian spelling.

19Queen “Headlong”

20Queen “Headlong”

21“Second Growth Forest.”

22Chromoplasts to attract pollinators as meat attracts eaters.

23Ivan – God’s Gracious Gift.

24Queen “Headlong”

25Putin stated that the “operation is a go.”

26Rad – Radiation.

27Queen “Headlong”

28Egor – “Yew army” because yew is used for bows.

29“Konstantin” -firm and constant.

30Sarcophagus is the name for the enclosure.

31Trench in the Red Forest is high radioactivity.

32Ordinary troops replace elites.

33Red hands mean exposure to radiation at near lethal dose.


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  1. Cael

    Interesting read, thanks for sharing. One nit-picky correction from a mis-spent youth – the Queen lyrics are from “Hammer to Fall”, rather than “Headlong”. 🙂

  2. Zotter

    So nice to see Stirling posting again, is this novella for sale and where?

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